Healing from Traumatic Birth, part two


This post is a continuation of our series on Healing from Traumatic Birth.

If you are recovering from a past traumatic birth experience, whether it was with your twins or another birth, you may want to begin the work of processing that experience and exploring how it impacted you.

Following are some suggestions that may help you to explore and process your feelings surrounding your birth experiences.

1)   Journal and write. Sometimes, thoughts in your head – even memories – can be confused and cluttered. It may be that holding the feelings in has become difficult, but you don’t feel safe sharing them with anyone else yet.  In both of these cases, putting your thoughts, feelings, and experiences to paper may help. You may find as you write that you discover things that bothered you that you hadn’t realized bothered you, or that you remember things more clearly as you attempt to sequence them in writing.  You may also find that the act of writing out your feelings and experiences is therapeutic in and of itself.

2)   Talk to someone who understands traumatic birth. This might be a local doula, birth advocate friend, or member of ICAN. If you can’t connect with an ICAN meeting local to you, there are online ICAN resources, like a discussion list for your region, the main ICAN yahoogroup, or the new ICAN Facebook group. Our Facebook group is also a safe space to discuss traumatic birth issues. Find somewhere you can talk about your experiences safely. You might be surprised at how many other women have dealt with similar feelings, and how validating it can feel to know you are not alone. One caveat: Try not to compare your experiences to those of other women. You may feel that your experiences are far worse than other mothers’, or you may feel that you are simply whining because your experiences aren’t as bad as others’.  What you feel is what you feel, and different women experience trauma differently, so remember that how you feel about a situation as you are experiencing it is what makes it traumatic. Each of us has the right to our own feelings, and to compassionate support as we process them.

3)   Make art. Draw, paint, sculpt, dance, sing, act, create! You may find as you make art about your birth experiences and expectations that issues come up you hadn’t consciously realized were issues for you. Art has a wonderful way of allowing for hidden layers of emotion to reveal themselves, and can bring otherwise frightening realities to the surface in gentler ways.

4)   Write letters to people who were involved in your traumatic birth, whether you plan to send them or not. You may want to write letters to facilitate your healing, to get needed information, or to effect change. Each of these purposes will change the content of your letter. A letter written for your healing doesn’t even have to be mailed, and it can be as specific, inflammatory, angry, upset, or vague as you want. You can do what you choose with your healing letters; some people enjoy burning them after reading through them a few times. A letter written for information can be specific and as objective as possible. A letter written to effect professional or systemic change will be more cautiously constructed, keeping in mind professionalism, “I-statements,” policies and procedures, peer-reviewed research, and a focus on future prevention.

5)   Do things that nurture your soul and spirit. This might be simple mental health activities – meditation, relaxation, bubble baths, enjoying hobbies, and getting together with friends, among other things. If you have a religious or spiritual practice, you may benefit from incorporating that into your healing process through prayer, spiritual healing, or other spiritual work. You may find that you can create a simple ritual, consistent with your beliefs, that helps you to release your hurt, anger, or disappointment over your birth experiences.

6)   Get counseling if you need it. If you are still struggling with your birth trauma after a period of processing, or if you find that your feelings surrounding your birth experiences are making it difficult to function on an everyday basis, you might want to get professional help. Contact your local birth network, ICAN chapter, or LLL chapter to find out if any of the members have counselors they recommend. Getting counseling might help you to be a better mother and partner, and to live a more fulfilling life, so don’t be ashamed if you would benefit from it.

7)    Share your story publicly if and when you feel comfortable doing so.  This could be on a blog (yours or someone else’s), at a red tent event, or some other public forum. Sometimes we feel that the only stories people should share publicly are the ones with “happy endings,” where everything goes exactly according to plan. Truthfully, though, your story might be helpful to someone else who has been through a similar situation, particularly if you can include into your story elements of what has helped you to heal, or what you have learned from your experiences. Just know before posting it publicly that not everyone will be supportive. Save this kind of sharing for when you feel you are in a better place to deal with any negative reactions you might get, and remember that others’ opinions about your experience have nothing to do with the reality or validity of your feelings.

8)   Work for change if and when you feel healed enough to do so. Many women are motivated by a traumatic birth experience to become advocates, activists, doulas, and other birth workers to help prevent other women from experiencing traumatic birth. As someone who has first-hand experience with how birth can go wrong, you are in a unique position to provide compassionate support and education to other women. However, you are also in a unique position to be triggered by other women’s choices or experiences. For this reason, you may want to wait to dive into personal advocacy until you are well into your healing journey. If you want to help but do not feel ready to personally advocate for others, you can contact your local birth advocacy groups (ICAN, CfM, etc.) and find out what kinds of “behind the scenes” help is needed.

9)   Be easy on yourself. In any situation where we experience trauma, it is common to wonder what we could have done differently. We scan back through what books we didn’t read during pregnancy, what provider we chose, where we chose to give birth, and a host of other choices we worry we could have done differently. To the extent that this might help us plan better for a future birth, these questions can be helpful.* However, beating yourself up for what you think you could have done differently does not facilitate healing; it can impede it. So, forgive yourself what you need to forgive, and work on letting go of self-blame and anger.

Healing from Traumatic Birth, part three, will focus on the language of birth and talking about birth trauma with others in ways that are less likely to be triggering.

* One way to work through healing that we did not include in this article is having a subsequent positive birth experience. While many, many women do report that having a positive, empowering birth can be an immense source of healing past birth trauma, it is not always something you can control.  Sometimes, women do everything “right” and their birth still may be traumatic for reasons they cannot control. For this reason, planning another baby “just to get to experience normal birth” has the potential to be disappointing and a source of more trauma. If you do plan on more children, then of course, plan as well as you can, control the things you can, and forgive yourself the rest. Just remember that sometimes birth is unpredictable.

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